Technology marches on.
In one of Knott's Berry Farm's earliest Ghost Town attractions, the Covered Wagon Show, visitors look at a static scale diorama of a wagon train crossing a desert plain while listening to recorded voices retell the travails of the Knott family pioneers as they came out West. It's an oddly affecting slice of Americana, but a special effects extravaganza it's not.
Opening this weekend just outside the bounds of Ghost Town, behind the old Birdcage Theater, is Mystery Lodge. Inside a re-creation of a Canadian Indian lodge of the Pacific Northwest, an aged storyteller (played by a live actor) conjures images from the smoke of a mystic campfire: wispy silhouettes of his wife and children as they were earlier in life, the face of an owl portending death, a squawking raven that flies up into the rafters.
Through the 10-minute main show, the storyteller disappears and reappears, repeatedly and instantaneously. At one point his face is transformed into that of the raven, the trickster of his culture's mythology.
The show is an impressive display of high-tech, how'd-they-do-that trickery. The patented process is called Holovision, which presumably involves holography, but the attraction's creator will only smile and talk coyly about "magic" when asked how it all works.
Bob Rogers, president and founder of Burbank-based BRC Imagination Arts, is justly proud of the attraction's technical achievements. But in an interview last week outside the show's exit, he said the technology is meant to serve the story's message, which he described as a universal call to find the best in ourselves and pass it on to our children.
"Each of us has something good and beautiful to give to the generations that follow, and the part of you that you give never dies, but lives forever," the storyteller tells the audience, after giving a metaphor-laden overview of his life.
"What better way to spend your time than talking, laughing, telling stories, sharing what is good and true, \o7 sharing life,\f7 with those you love?"
If it's beginning to sound like Mystery Lodge may not have as many death-defying thrills as the new Batman ride at Magic Mountain--well, you're starting to get the picture. The point of Mystery Lodge is to "uplift the heart rather than the stomach," said Rogers, which fits right in with the Knott's plan of offering family-style attractions along with the roller-coasters.
The attraction is designed for a wide age range, Rogers said: Younger children will be captivated by the "magic" of the show, he predicted, while adults will also tune into the message.
Mystery Lodge is the descendant of Spirit Lodge, a BRC-produced attraction that was a hit at Expo '86 in Vancouver, B.C. That's where Terry E. Van Gorder, president of Knott's, saw the show and took an interest, starting a series of discussions that has now brought a spruced-up version of the show to the Buena Park amusement park.
For both Spirit Lodge and Mystery Lodge, BRC worked with the Kwak'wala-speaking 'Namgis people of Alert Bay, on Commorant Island in British Columbia. Theme parks have a less-than-sterling record of depicting Native American culture, usually leaning heavily on old cowboy-versus-Indian movie stereotypes, a hurdle that Rogers had to overcome when he first approached the 'Namgis.
"It has not in general been a very good relationship," said Rogers, speaking about the standoff between Native Americans and amusement parks. "By rights, they shouldn't even have returned our calls."
But for Spirit Lodge, Rogers' company and its Native American and Canadian Indian advisers struck up a cooperative relationship, which they relied on to plan the Knott's attraction. "They corrected us on every level of detail," Rogers said, from "broad philosophical points to tiny details"--such as whether the 'Namgis wear ponytails (they don't).
Bill Cranmer, a Canadian Indian adviser to the show and the recorded voice of the Mystery Lodge storyteller, said he and the people of his group were "a little skeptical" when Rogers first approached them about the Expo '86 idea, but "he convinced us it wasn't going to be just a Hollywood show."
So later, when Rogers returned with the concept of sprucing up the show for Knott's, Cranmer was more than willing to help. Van Gorder himself made a trip to Alert Bay to talk up the project. "Terry came up to our place a couple of years ago and talked to us, and he seemed to be a very sincere person," Cranmer recalled.
Cranmer is chairman of the board of directors of the Umista Cultural Center in Alert Bay, which displays many of the ceremonial items of his culture. \o7 Umista \f7 is a word meaning \o7 something that has been taken away and returned, \f7 an apt description for most of the works on display.